This is an archived blog post from The Acorn.
Biryani is a fragrant rice dish made from a mixture of spices, long-grained Basmati rice, meat and yogurt. The name is derived from the Farsi word birian. Based on the name, and the cooking style (dum, explained later), it appears that the dish originated in Persia or Arabia. While some think it came from Persia via Afghanistan to north India, others think it was brought by the Arab traders via the Arabian Sea to Calicut, which had maritime trade with West Asia.
Biryani picture by Vijay Pandey.
Besides the historical facts, the biryani’s story gets a bit spiced up with legends. One has it that Timor ‘the Lame’ brought it down from Kazakhstan via Afghanistan to north India. According to another fable, Mumtaz Mahal created this dish as a wholesome meal to feed the Mughal emperor’s army. From the Mughals, the biryani spread to the Nizam’s kitchens in Hyderabad, as it did to Awadh (now Lucknow) and Calcutta. When Aurangzeb installed the Nawab of Arcot to oversee Aaru Kaadu region south of Hyderabad, he unwittingly led to the creation of the Arcot biryani. The biryani also spread to Mysore thanks to Tipu Sultan. Needless to say it was a royal dish of the nawabs and nizams. These worthies hired vegetarian Hindus as bookkeepers, which led to the creation of the tahiri biryani (a vegetarian version). To me ‘authentic’ biryani, and the one I crave the most, is the dum-pukht variety with Hyderabadi or Awadhi influence. Dum means steam and dum pukht literally means to choke off the steam. The food is placed in a pot, usually made of clay, and dough is used to create a tight seal to prevent steam from escaping. The food is slowly cooked in its own juices and steam, allowing herbs and spices to fully infuse the meat or rice, preserving the nutritional elements at the same time. In the best biryanis, grains of rice are well-cooked yet do not stick to one another. The meat, usually on the shank, is soft, well marinated and enhances the heady aroma of Basmati and the spices. I like my biryanis best with raita, onion rings and mint chutney. [Eat the rest of it at Traveller’s Tales]
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